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How to Conduct Great Customer Interviews for New Product Development

Customer interviews involve asking questions.  Although virtually anybody can do this, conducting an effective Voice of the Customer interview, one that delivers detailed information you can act upon, requires far more than just asking questions.  In my work as a consultant, I see far more bad interviews conducted than good ones. Here are several best practices to help you improve your customer interviews and fully understand the Voice of the Customer.

Have a conversation; don’t read questions.  A good customer interview is a guided conversation, not a list of questions you read.  If you read questions, your respondents will mostly provide short, somewhat stiff answers that lack detail.  The reason is that you’ve set up an interview situation that does not look or feel like a conversation, but rather a survey or, even worse, an interrogation.  Rather than looking down to read questions, make eye contact, listen and have a conversation with customers.  You’ll get more thoughtful and detailed answers from customers this way.

Generalities like “ease of use” mean nothing.  Customers often begin an answer with generalities, such as “ease of use,” “durability” or “quality.”  Although this is a good start, these words or phrases offer little value to developing better products and services.  After all, what customer doesn’t want an easy to use, durable and high-quality product?  The answer: none.  All customers want this.  Good customer interviewers, therefore, get beyond these generalities.  They ask follow-up questions, such as, “You mentioned quality a moment ago.  When you say quality, what do you mean?  What makes a quality product for you?”  Asking these follow-on questions, and then probing further to capture details that matter, separates good interviews from bad ones.   

React to what customers say.  Inexperienced interviewers often act as though their purpose is to get through all their questions or topics as quickly as possible.  They ask a question, get a response from the customer and quickly move on to the next question.  But they don’t listen to what the customer said, assess whether they understand it and probe to clarify ambiguity, seeming contradiction or identify missing details.  The interviewer gets through all the questions, but they learn little.  Good interviewers listen and react to what customers say in real time, just like a normal conversation.

Don’t sell anything.  The goal of customer interviews is to collect detailed information you can use to develop successful products and services.  But customers interviews are not selling.  Selling is a separate activity, one that has social expectations that are the direct opposite of the open sharing of information that we seek in a customer interview.  If you want to have a sales call, then you should set up a sales call.  If you want to have an effective customer interview, however, then you should avoid selling and tell the customer that when you make the appointment.  This will set the appropriate expectation and provide you with the best opportunity to collect useful information in your customer interview.

Following these guidelines will help you conduct more effective customer interviews.  You’ll get more information, with a greater level of detail, than you might have imagined possible.

Attend our upcoming Voice of the Customer workshop in Chicago!

In-Depth Interviewing Voice of the Customer

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